The original song lyric, translation courtesy of the Zemerl archive, was a classic frustrated immigrant song. In it the singer's starry-eyed cousin arrives from Europe looking for the American dream.
"A girl cousin arrived, a greenhorn,
Beautiful as gold she was
Cheeks red as oranges
Tiny feet, just made for dancing. "
The cousin, once confronted by the realities of life in America, grows bitter about her new home.
"But, as the years passed by
My cousin went downhill
From working hard week after week
Nothing remained but a wreck.
Today, as I meet her in the street
And I ask: How's everything, Greenhorn?
She just sighs and I read in her eye:
To hell with Columbus' paradise! "
This progression is typical of not only of many Yiddish immigrant songs, but of immigrant songs in general. For example, The contemporary Los Angeles-based American Latino group Ozomatli has a similar lyric in their song "(Who Discovered) America " (lyrics courtesy of All The Lyrics.)
The song begins...
"I heard her story from across the sea,
There was never one as fair, lovely as she.
With sun soaked skin and eyes of green,
with all kindness and grace of a queen."
"How could I've know I'd been hypnotized.
There was more to my queen than first met the eye.
She had a chain of lovers who died her slaves
With a notion of blood for every drop that she gave."
Getting back to Di Grine Kusine, the song has been recored many times using the original Yiddish lyrics. Here's a raucus contemporary version of the song performed by the outstanding Danish band Klezmofobia. As best I can follow the Yiddish, the band is sticking nicely to the original lyric. (Any Yiddish speakers want to verify that?)
I've had no trouble finding more contemporary recordings of musicians following the original Yiddish lyrics, the Klezmofobia version for example. I've also had no trouble finding musicians following the Goodman / Lee version. Here's a live video of Paul Shaprio and his Ribs and Brisket Revue playing My Little Cousin from his album Essen.
Hat tip to YouTube users Heimdal4 for the Klezmofobia video and Brandibb for the Benny Goodman video.